Hawaii Practice Notes Day 2: Clark Lea, Jaylen Mahoney on remaining focused for Week 0

Vanderbilt defender Jaylen Mahoney wants to help his team have the best chance at winning, no matter if he is placed at safety or nickel cornerback.

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Vanderbilt Athletics

Head coach Clark Lea speaking to the team after practice, as photographed on Aug. 23, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics)

Andrew Wilf, Deputy Sports Editor

Editor’s note: Vanderbilt Athletics sponsored a trip to Hawaii for Deputy Sports Editor Andrew Wilf, granting him on-site access to the team’s day-to-day activities for journalistic purposes.

At 6:30 a.m. HST on Aug. 23, Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea addressed the media. The second-year head coach continued to emphasize the importance of “beating the trip” as the Commodores explore the famous sites of Honolulu from the Pearl Harbor National Memorial to Secret Island Beach.

Although this trip presents unique chances to sightsee, Lea needs his team to be laser-focused in regards to preparation for Saturday night. 

“I think the unique nature, the environment that we’re in now, is going to make it especially challenging. Their [Hawaii’s] head coach is a Hawaii legend and there is a lot of energy around on the island and in support of the early build in his program,” Lea said. “You got a prideful group that’s got an opportunity to play against an SEC team here to open the season at home. They’re going to be up for the fight.”

On Aug. 22, Vanderbilt released their depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game. The biggest news came at the quarterback position, where true freshman AJ Swann was listed ahead of former Commodore starter Ken Seals as the second-string quarterback. Swann has never seen NCAA action, but Lea believes that he gives Vanderbilt the best chance to win a game if Mike Wright goes down.

“​​I think it’s a razor-thin margin between all three [quarterbacks] honestly, I felt like all three had good camps. Joey [Lynch] and I met and he sat down and met with the quarterbacks. But, for us right now, this is how the depth chart sets, which means Mike is the first and AJ is the second,” Lea said. “This is just how things settled coming out of camp.”

On the other side of the football, the Commodores are dealing with injuries on the defensive line. Just under a week ago, star defensive end Miles Capers suffered a season-ending injury. Another key piece of the defensive line is two-time captain Daevion Davis who did not make the trip to Honolulu; however, Lea expects him to return early in the season. Brayden Bapst—another defensive lineman—will likely not make an appearance on Saturday, but remains “week to week,” per Lea. The defensive line will not have strong depth this weekend, but Lea remains optimistic.

“As far as depth goes, we’ll feel really good once we get those guys [Davis and Bapst ] back from injury,” Lea said. “We do have a little bit of a depth issue with the injuries and we need to be able to plug gaps where we see fit, so I’m excited for that group.”

A key part of Vanderbilt’s defense is their secondary. Last season, the Commodore defense allowed 264.3 passing yards per game, which ranked at No. 114 amongst FBS teams. In the offseason, Lea brought in Nick Howell as defensive coordinator and Dan Jackson as defensive backs coach. A glue to Jackson’s room is senior Jaylen Mahoney, one of Vanderbilt’s eight captains. He spoke with The Hustler after practice on Aug. 23.

“I’m happy with Coach Howell,” Mahoney said. “I love his mindset that he’s trying to give to the defense, and I feel like it’s going to take us a long way, not just this year but years going on.